Internet Research Agency
The Internet Research Agency (IRA; Russian: Агентство интернет-исследований, also known as Glavset and known in Russian Internet slang as the Trolls from Olgino) is a Russian company, based in Saint Petersburg, engaged in online influence operations on behalf of Russian business and political interests.
The January 2017 report issued by the United States Intelligence Community – Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections – described the Agency as a troll farm writing, "The likely financier of the so-called Internet Research Agency of professional trolls located in Saint Petersburg is a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence," noted that "they previously were devoted to supporting Russian actions in Ukraine—[and] started to advocate for President-elect Trump as early as December 2015."
The agency has employed fake accounts registered on major social networks, discussion boards, online newspaper sites, and video hosting services to promote the Kremlin's interests in domestic and foreign policy including Ukraine and the Middle East as well as attempting to influence the 2016 United States presidential election. More than 1,000 employees reportedly worked in a single building of the agency in 2015.
The extent to which a Russian agency has tried to influence public opinion using social media became better known after a June 2014 BuzzFeed article greatly expanded on government documents published by hackers earlier that year. The Internet Research Agency gained more attention by June 2015, when one of its offices was reported as having data from fake accounts used for biased Internet trolling. Subsequently, there were news reports of individuals receiving monetary compensation for performing these tasks.
On 16 February 2018, a United States grand jury indicted 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian entities, including the Internet Research Agency, on charges of violating criminal laws with the intent to interfere "with U.S. elections and political processes", according to the Justice Department.
- 1 Origin
- 2 Organizers
- 3 Offices
- 4 Work organization
- 5 Trolling themes
- 6 Organized anti-Ukrainian campaign
- 7 Reactions
- 8 Assessments
- 9 Additional activities of organizers
- 10 Lawsuit
- 11 Indictments
- 12 Notes
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
The terms "Trolls from Olgino" and "Olgino's trolls" (Ru: "Тролли из Ольгино") have become general terms denoting trolls who spread pro-Russian propaganda, not only necessarily those based at the office in Olgino.
Russian newspaper Vedomosti links the approved-by-Russian-authorities strategy of public consciousness manipulation through new media to Vyacheslav Volodin, first deputy of the Vladimir Putin Presidential Administration of Russia.
|Why are Russian trolls spreading online hoaxes in the U.S.?, PBS News Hour (PBS is funded by member station dues, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, corporate contributions, pledge drives, foundations and individual citizens.), 8 June 2015 |
|RUSSIAN INVASION: Bots and trolls take over the web! RT (RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government), 3 June 2014|
Journalists have written that Alexey Soskovets, who had participated in the Russian youth political community, was directly connected to the office in Olgino, and that his company, North-Western Service Agency, won 17 or 18 (according to different sources) contracts for organizing celebrations, forums and sport competitions for authorities of Saint Petersburg and that Soskovets' company was the only participant in half of those bids. In mid-2013 the agency won a tender for providing freight services for participants of Seliger camp.
In 2014, according to Russian media, Internet Research Ltd. (Russian: «Интернет исследования») was founded in March 2014, joined IRA's activity. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that this company is a successor of Internet Research Agency Ltd. Internet Research Ltd. is considered to be linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the holding company Concord Management and Consulting. The "Trolls of Olgino" are considered to be his project. As of October 2014, the company belonged to Mikhail Bystrov, who had been the head of the police station at Moscow district of Saint Petersburg.
Russian media point out that according to documents, published by hackers from Anonymous International, Concord Management is directly involved with trolling administration through the agency. Researchers cite e-mail correspondence, in which Concord Management gives instructions to trolls and receives reports on accomplished work. According to journalists, Concord Management organized banquets in the Kremlin and also cooperated with Voentorg and the Russian Ministry of Defence.
Despite links to Alexei Soskovets, Nadejda Orlova, deputy head of the Committee for Youth Policy in Saint Petersburg, disputed a connection between her institution and the trolling offices.
2013: 131 Primorskoye Shosse, Olgino, Saint Petersburg
As reported by Novaya Gazeta, in the end of August 2013, the following message appeared in social networks: "Internet operators wanted! Job at chic office in Olgino!!! (st. Staraya Derevnia), salary 25960 per month (USD$780 as of 2013). Task: posting comments at profile sites in the Internet, writing thematic posts, blogs, social networks. Reports via screenshots. Individual schedule [...] Payment every week, 1180 per shift (from 8.00 to 16.00, from 10.30 to 18.30, from 14.00 to 22.00). PAYMENTS EVERY WEEK AND FREE MEALS!!! Official job placement or according to contract (at will). Tuition possible."
As reported by media and former employees, the office in Olgino, Primorskiy district, St. Peterburg had existed and had been functioning since September 2013. It was situated in a white cottage, 15 minutes by an underground railway from Staraya Derevnia station, opposite Olgino railway station. Workplaces for troll-employees were placed in basement rooms.
2014: 55 Ulitsa Savushkina (Street), Saint Petersburg
According to Russian online newspaper DP.ru, several months before October 2014 the office moved from Olgino to a four-story building at 55 Savushkina Street, Primorskiy district, St. Peterburg. As reported by journalists, the building is officially an uncompleted construction and stayed as such as of March 2015.
A New York Times investigative reporter was told that the Internet Research Agency had shortened its name to "Internet Research," and as of June 2015 had been asked to leave the 55 Savushkina Street location "a couple of months ago" because "it was giving the entire building a bad reputation." A possibly related organization, FAN or Federal News Agency, was located in the building. The New York Times article describes various experiences reported by former employees of the Internet Research Agency at the Savushkina Street location. It also describes several disruptive hoaxes in the US and Europe, such as the Columbian Chemicals Plant explosion hoax, that may be attributable to the Internet Research Agency or similar Russian-based organizations.
Novaya Gazeta reported that, according to Alexey Soskovets, head of the office in Olgino, North-Western Service Agency was hiring employees for similar projects in Moscow and other cities in 2013.
More than 1,000 paid bloggers and commenters reportedly worked only in a single building at Savushkina Street in 2015. Many other employees work remotely. According to BuzzFeed, more than 600 people were generally employed in the trolls' office earlier, in June 2014. Each commentator has a daily quota of 100 comments.
Trolls take shifts writing mainly in blogs on LiveJournal and Vkontakte, about subjects along the propaganda lines assigned. Included among the employees are artists who draw political cartoons. They work for 12 hours every other two days. A blogger's quota is ten posts per shift, each post at least 750 characters. A commenter's norm is 126 comments and two posts per account. Each blogger is in charge of three accounts.
Employees at the Olgino office earned 25,000 Russian rubles per month; those at the Savushkina Street office earned approximately 40,000 Russian rubles. In May 2014, Fontanka.ru described schemes for plundering the federal budget, intended to go toward the trolling organization. In 2017 another whistleblower said that with bonuses and long working hours the salary can reach 80,000 rubles.
An employee interviewed by The Washington Post described the work:
I immediately felt like a character in the book 1984 by George Orwell — a place where you have to write that white is black and black is white. Your first feeling, when you ended up there, was that you were in some kind of factory that turned lying, telling untruths, into an industrial assembly line.
- Criticism of Alexei Navalny, his sponsors, and Russian opposition in general;
- Criticism of Ukraine's and the United States' foreign policies, and of the top politicians of these states;
- Praise for Vladimir Putin and the policy of the Russian Federation.
- Praise for and defense of Bashar al-Assad.
Journalists have written that themes of trolling were consistent with those of other Russian propaganda outlets in topics and timing. Technical points used by trolls were taken mainly from Russia Today content.
A 2015 BBC investigation identified the Olgino factory as the most likely producer of a September 2015 "Saiga 410K review" video where an actor posing as U.S. soldier shoots at a book that turns out to be a Quran, which sparked outrage. The BBC found among other irregularities that the soldier's uniform is not used by the U.S. military and is easily purchased in Russia, and that the actor filmed was most likely a barman from Saint Petersburg related to a troll factory employee.
The citizen-journalism site Bellingcat identified the team from Olgino as the real authors of a video attributed to the Azov Battalion in which masked soldiers threaten the Netherlands for organizing the referendum on the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement.
Organized anti-Ukrainian campaign
In the beginning of April 2014 there began an organized online campaign to shift public opinion in the Western world in a way that would be useful for Russian authorities regarding the Russian military intervention in Ukraine in 2014. Hacked and leaked documents from that time contain instructions for commenters posting at the websites of Fox News, The Huffington Post, TheBlaze, Politico, and WorldNetDaily. The requirement for the working hours for the trolls is also mentioned: 50 comments under news articles per day. Each blogger has to manage six accounts on Facebook, post at least three posts every day, and participate twice in the group discussions. Other employees have to manage 10 accounts on Twitter, publishing 50 tweets every day. Journalists concluded that Igor Osadchiy was a probable leader of the project, and the campaign itself was run by Internet Research Agency Ltd. Osadchiy denied his connection to the agency.
In the beginning of 2016, Ukraine's state-owned news agency Ukrinform claimed to expose a system of bots in social networks, which called for violence against the Ukrainian government and for starting "The Third Maidan".[nb 1] They reported that the organizer of this system is the former anti-Ukrainian combatant Sergiy Zhuk from Donbass. He allegedly performed his internet activity from Vnukovo District in Moscow.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
In March 2014, the Polish edition of Newsweek expressed suspicion that Russia was employing people to "bombard" its website with pro-Russian comments on Ukraine-related articles. Poland's governmental computer emergency response team later confirmed that pro-Russia commentary had flooded Polish internet portals at the start of the Ukrainian crisis. German-language media websites were also flooded with pro-Russia comments in the spring of 2014.
The United States Justice Department announced the indictment on 16 February 2018, of the Internet Research Agency while also naming more than a dozen individual suspects who allegedly worked there as part of the special counsel's investigation into criminal interference with the 2016 election.
Leonid Volkov, a politician working for Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, suggests that the point of sponsoring paid Internet trolling is to make the Internet so distasteful that ordinary people are not willing to participate.
Additional activities of organizers
Based on the documents published by Anonymous International, Concord Management and Consulting was linked to the funding of several media outlets in Ukraine and Russia, including Kharkiv News Agency, News of Neva, Newspaper About Newspapers, Business Dialog, and Journalist Truth.
The Columbian Chemicals Plant explosion hoax of 11 September 2014, which claim an explosion at a chemical plant in Centerville, St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, has been attributed in June 2015, by the New York Times Magazine, as "a highly coordinated disinformation campaign" and that the "virtual assault" was the work of the Internet Research Agency.
Three months later, the same accounts posted false messages on Twitter about an Ebola outbreak in Atlanta under the keyword #EbolaInAtlanta, quickly relayed and picked up by users living in the city. A video was then posted on YouTube, showing a medical team treating an alleged Ebola victim at Atlanta Airport. On the same day, a different group launched a rumor on Twitter under the keyword #shockingmurderinatlanta, reporting the death of a disarmed black woman shot by police. Again, a blurry and poorly filmed video is broadcast to support the rumor.
Between July 2014 and September 2017, the IRA used bots and trolls on Twitter to sow discord about the safety of vaccines. The campaign used sophisticated Twitter bots to amplify highly polarizing pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine messages containing the hashtag #VaccinateUS.
In September 2017 Facebook said that ads had been "geographically targeted". Facebook revealed that during the 2016 United States presidential election, IRA had purchased advertisements on the website for US$100,000, 25% of which were geographically targeted to the U.S. Facebook's chief security officer said that the ads "appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum".
According to an 17 October 2017 BuzzFeed News report, IRA duped American activists into taking real action via protests and self-defense training in what would seem to be a further attempt to exploit racial grievances.
On 16 February 2018, IRA, along with 13 Russian individuals and two other Russian organizations, was indicted following an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller with charges stemming from "impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of government."
On 23 March 2018, The Daily Beast revealed new details about IRA gathered from leaked internal documents, which showed that IRA used Reddit and Tumblr as part of its influence campaign. On the same day, Tumblr announced that they had banned 84 accounts linked to IRA, saying that they had spread misinformation through conventional postings rather than advertisements.
In October 2018 the US Justice Department filed charges against Russian accountant Elena Khusyaynova for working with the IRA to influence not only the 2016 elections but also the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.
Rallies and protests organized by IRA in the United States
On 4 April 2016, a rally in Buffalo, New York protested the death of India Cummings, a black woman who had recently died in police custody. IRA's "Blacktivist" Facebook account actively promoted the event and reached out directly to local activists on Facebook Messenger asking them to circulate petitions and print posters. "Blacktivist" supplied the petitions and poster artwork.
A rally on 16 April 2016, protesting the death of Freddie Gray attracted large crowds in Baltimore. IRA's "Blacktivist" Facebook group promoted and organized the event, including reaching out to local activists.
On 23 April 2016, a small group of white-power demonstrators held a rally they called "Rock Stone Mountain" at Stone Mountain Park near Stone Mountain, Georgia. They were confronted by a large group of protesters, and some violent clashes ensued. The protest was heavily promoted by IRA accounts on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, and the IRA website blackmatters.com. The IRA used its Blacktivist Facebook account to reach out, to no avail, to activist and academic Barbara Williams Emerson, the daughter of Hosea Williams, to help promote the protests. Afterward, RT blamed anti-racist protesters for violence and promoted two videos shot at the event.
On 2 May 2016, a second rally was held in Buffalo, New York, protesting the death of India Cummings. Like the 4 April rally, the event was heavily promoted by IRA's "Blacktivist" Facebook account, including attempted outreach to local activists.
On 21 May 2016, two competing rallies were held in Houston to alternately protest against and defend the recently opened Library of Islamic Knowledge at the Islamic Da'wah Center. The "Stop Islamization of Texas" rally was organized by the Facebook group "Heart of Texas". The posting for the event encouraged participants to bring guns. A spokesman for the group conversed with the Houston Press via email but declined to give a name. The other rally, "Save Islamic Knowledge", was organized by another Facebook group called "United Muslims of America" for the same time and location. Both Facebook groups were later revealed to be IRA accounts.
On 25 May 2016, the Westboro Baptist Church held its annual protest of Lawrence High School graduation ceremonies in Lawrence, Kansas. The "LGBT United" Facebook group organized a counter protest to confront the Westboro Baptist Church protest, including by placing an ad on Facebook and contacting local people. About a dozen counter protesters showed up. Lawrence High School students did not participate in the counter protest because they were skeptical of the counter protest organizers. "LGBT United" was an IRA account that appears to have been created specifically for this event.
IRA's "Don't Shoot" Facebook group and affiliated "Don't Shoot Us" website tried to organize a protest outside St. Paul, Minnesota police headquarters on 10 July 2016, in response to the 6 July fatal police shooting of Philando Castile. Some local activists became suspicious of the motives behind the event because St. Paul police were not involved in the shooting. Castille had been shot by a St. Anthony police officer in nearby Falcon Heights. Local activists contacted "Don't Shoot." After being pressed on who they were and who supported them, "Don't Shoot" agreed to move the protest to St. Anthony police headquarters. The concerned local activists investigated further and urged protesters not to participate after deciding "Don't Shoot" was a "total troll job." "Don't Shoot" organizers eventually relinquished control of the event to local organizers, who subsequently declined to accept any money offered by "Don't Shoot" to cover expenses.
A Black Lives Matter protest rally was held in Dallas on 10 July 2016. A "Blue Lives Matter" counter protest was held across the street. The "Blue Lives Matter" protest was organized by the "Heart of Texas" Facebook group controlled by IRA.
The Blacktivist Facebook group organized a rally in Chicago to honor Sandra Bland on 16 July 2016, the first anniversary of her death. The rally was held in front of the Chicago Police Department's Homan Square building. They passed around petitions calling for a Civilian Police Accountability Council ordinance.
17 "Florida Goes Trump" rallies were held across Florida on 25 August 2016. The rallies were organized by IRA using their "Being Patriotic" Facebook group and "march_for_trump" Twitter account.
The "SecuredBorders" Facebook group organized the "Citizens before refugees" protest rally on 27 August 2016, at the City Council Chambers in Twin Falls, Idaho. Only a small number of people showed up for the three hour event, most likely because it was Saturday and the Chambers were closed. "SecureBorders" was an IRA account.
The "Safe Space for Muslim Neighborhood" rally was held outside the White House on 3 September 2016. At least 57 people attended the event organized by the IRA's "United Muslims of America" Facebook group.
"BlackMattersUS", an IRA website, recruited activists to participate in protests on the days immediately following the 20 September 2016, police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina. The IRA paid for expenses such as microphones and speakers.
The "Miners for Trump" rallies held in Pennsylvania on 2 October 2016, were organized by IRA's "Being Patriotic" Facebook group.
A large rally was held in Charlotte, North Carolina on 22 October 2016, protesting the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. BlackMattersUS recruited unwitting local activists to organize the rally. BlackMattersUS provided one activist with a bank card to pay for rally expenses.
Anti-Hillary Clinton "Texit" rallies were held across Texas on 5 November 2016. The "Heart of Texas" Facebook group organized the rallies around the theme of Texas seceding from the United States if Hillary Clinton is elected. The group contacted the Texas Nationalist Movement, a secessionist organization, to help with organizing efforts, but they declined to help. Small rallies were held in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and other cities. No one attended the Lubbock rally.
A Trump protest called "Trump is NOT my President" attracted 5,000 to 10,000 protestors in Manhattan on 12 November 2016. Protesters marched from Union Square to Trump Tower. The protest was organized by BlackMattersUS.
The IRA's "United Muslims of America" Facebook group organized the "Make peace, not war!" protest on 3 June 2017, outside Trump Tower in New York City. It is unclear whether anyone attended this protest or instead attended the "March for Truth" affiliated protest held on the same day.
In May 2015, a trolling company employee Lyudmila Savchuk in Saint Petersburg sued her employer for labor violations, seeking to disclose its activities. Ivan Pavlov from human rights defending initiative Team 29 represented Savchuk, and the defendant "troll-factory" agreed to pay Savchuk her withheld salaries and to restore her job.
Savchuk later described extreme psychological pressure at the work place, with jokes circulating among employees that "one can remain sane in the factory for two months maximum", as result of constant switching between different personalities that the workers are expected to design and maintain during work time.
The realization that you can invent any fact, then watch it absolutely synchronized with the media outlets as one massive information outflow and spread worldwide – that absolutely breaks your psyche— Lyudmila Savchuk, Polygraph, "Working in Russian Troll Factory Pushed Reporter to ‘Edge of Insanity'", 2018
On 16 February 2018, 13 individuals were indicted by the Washington, D.C. grand jury for alleged illegal interference in the 2016 presidential elections, during which they strongly supported the candidacy of Donald Trump, according to special counsel Robert Mueller's office. IRA, Concord Management and Concord Catering were also indicted. It was alleged that IRA was controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The indicted individuals are Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly Aslanov, Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva, Maria Anatolyevna Bovda, Robert Sergeyevich Bovda, Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova, Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, Sergey Pavlovich Polozov, Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, Gleb Igorevitch Vasilchenko, and Vladimir Venkov. None of the defendants is in custody.
On 15 March, President Trump imposed financial sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act on the 13 Russian and organizations indicted by Mueller, preventing them from entering the United States to answer the charges should they wish to.
In October 2018 Russian accountant Elena Khusyaynova was charged with interferеnce in the 2016 and 2018 US elections. She is alleged to have been working with the IRA. She was said to have managed a $16 million budget.
- "Facebook May Have More Russian Troll Farms to Worry About". wired.com.
- By early 2018, Facebook suspended 70 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency: Adi Robertson @thedextriarchy (Apr 3, 2018). "Facebook suspends 273 accounts and pages linked to Russian misinformation agency". theverge.com. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
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- Тролли из Ольгино переехали в новый четырехэтажный офис на Савушкина (in Russian). dp.ru. 28 October 2014
- СМИ: «Ольгинские тролли» стали «савушкинскими» (in Russian). Lentizdat.ru. 28 October 2014
- Chen, Adrian (2 June 2015). "The Agency: From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid 'trolls' has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet – and in real-life American communities". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
- CNN, Tim Lister, Jim Sciutto and Mary Ilyushina,. "Putin's 'chef,' the man behind the troll factory". cnn.com.
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- Ross Logan (30 March 2016). "Video of 'US soldier shooting Qur'an' is a fake made in Russia". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
- "Behind the Dutch Terror Threat Video: The St. Petersburg 'Troll Factory' Connection". Bellingcat. 3 April 2016. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
- Andy Cush (20 August 2015). "Emails Link Kremlin Troll Farm to Bizarre New York Photography Exhibit". Gawker. Archived from the original on 20 September 2015. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
- Lana Samokhvalova (21 January 2016). "Московський слід колорадського Жука, або Хто і як готує "Майдан-3"" [Moscow's cyber roaches, or who's calling for 'Maidan 3']. Ukrinform (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 21 January 2016.
- Wachnicki, Michał; Olwert, Paweł (4 March 2014). "Wynajęci Rosjanie cyber-bombardują polski internet?" [Hired Russians cyber-bombarding the Polish internet?]. Newsweek (Polish version) (in Polish). Retrieved 12 June 2016.
- Czekaj, Matthew (29 April 2015). "Russia's Hybrid War Against Poland". Eurasia Daily Monitor. The Jamestown Foundation. 12 (80). Retrieved 12 June 2016.
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- Gathmann, Moritz; Neef, Christian; Schepp, Matthias; Stark, Holger (30 May 2014). "The Opinion-Makers: How Russia Is Winning the Propaganda War". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
- Hans, Julian (13 June 2014). "Putins Trolle" [Putin's trolls]. Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 12 June 2016.
- Bracher, Katharina (29 June 2014). "Prorussische Propaganda aus der Schweiz: Twittern für den Kreml" [Pro-Russian propaganda from Switzerland: Twittering for the Kremlin]. Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 12 June 2016.
- Barkin, Noah; Rinke, Andreas (25 November 2014). "Merkel hits diplomatic dead-end with Putin". Reuters. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
German media have been complaining for months about their news sites being bombarded with pro-Russian comments. German security sources say they are part of an organized offensive steered from the Kremlin.
- Dapkus, Liudas (28 December 2016). "Lithuanian 'elves' battle with pro-Russian trolls on social media". Toronto Star. Associated Press.
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